Federal Judiciary:

Information on the Use of Recalled Magistrate and Bankruptcy Judges

GGD-99-22: Published: Jan 15, 1999. Publicly Released: Jan 15, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO determined: (1) whether the demand for recalled magistrate and bankruptcy judges has exceeded the number of judges available to serve in recalled positions; (2) whether the courts that recalled judges had judgeship vacancies or higher than average weighted case filings; and (3) the approximate 1-year cost savings associated with using a recalled judge rather than filling a full-time judgeship position.

GAO noted that: (1) during the period from October 1, 1989, through April 30, 1998, all of the district courts and all but one of the bankruptcy courts whose requests for recalled judges had been approved by the circuit judicial councils were able to obtain the services of a recalled judge; (2) during this period, 25 of the 92 district courts with magistrate judges and 33 of the 90 bankruptcy courts used at least 1 retired magistrate or bankruptcy judge; (3) the single bankruptcy court whose approved request was not filled had requested the appointment of two recalled bankruptcy judges in 1993; (4) one appointment was made, and data were not available on why the second appointment was not made; (5) one possible reason is that Congress had authorized two additional bankruptcy judgeships for this court in 1992; (6) in considering whether the demand for recalled judges exceeded the number of judges available to serve in recall appointments, it is important to note that the 111 recalled magistrate judge appointments and the 159 recalled bankruptcy judge appointments were filled by a relatively small number of eligible judges who were often reappointed to their recalled positions one or more times; (7) a total of 96 magistrate judges and 60 bankruptcy judges were eligible for recall for at least part of the period covered by the review; (8) the recall appointments were filled by 33 separate retired magistrate judges and 43 separate retired bankruptcy judges; (9) district courts or bankruptcy courts that recalled judges showed no clear pattern of judgeship vacancies, and bankruptcy courts that recalled judges showed no clear pattern of weighted case filings; (10) some district courts or bankruptcy courts used recalled judges for at least a portion of the time the court had a magistrate judgeship or bankruptcy judgeship vacancy, while other district courts or bankruptcy courts with magistrate judgeship or bankruptcy judgeship vacancies did not use recalled judges; (11) the bankruptcy courts that used recalled judges during the period of GAO's review had widely varying weighted case filings; (12) the Judicial Conference has not adopted case weight measures for magistrate judges; and (13) according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts data, recalled magistrate and bankruptcy judges are less costly than full-time nonretired judges.

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